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JENNI'S OFF-GRID NEWSLETTER, NO. 4 (SEPTEMBER, 2015)

September 24, 2015

Birds, Bats, and Books

And perhaps briny and bikinis (although this last doesn’t apply too much to John). The past few weeks here at our winter bolthole way up in the far north of Oz, has, as always, been almost disgustingly easy. Laid back, no housework to speak of, no cold, almost no rain, no house maintenance, garden maintenance, wood chopping (apply last two to John only). The life of Riley (I have no idea who Riley is and I am not going to Wikipedia him). Two seconds later: Well I couldn’t resist and this is the ‘top’ definition.

To Live the Life of Riley
v. To have a happy life without hard work, problems or worries.

Some scholars argue that this Riley (originally spelt "Reilly") referred to the character that appeared in a song written by Pat Rooney in 1890. In the song Riley says if he ever became the President of the US then "New York" would "swim in wine when the White House and Capitol are mine."
Some others argue that it was an American poet by the name of James Whitcomb Riley who gave rise to this idiom. Apparently, Riley (1849-1916) wrote sentimental poems about young boys, which were very popular during his time. The poems told the stories of young boys lazing around during the summer without a care in the world — wandering about barefoot, swimming in the river and fishing.
- He got to live the life of Reily after inheriting a huge amount of money.

-While John worked all day, Jack stayed home living the life of Riley.


Well can’t argue with that and particularly like the last example, if Jack is replaced with Jenni. I was pleased to note that James Whitcomb Riley who I am definitely not going to look up in Wikipedia, wrote entirely innocent stories of young boys lazing about in the summer, fishing and so on.

Even better, when living up here there is no need to have much money to live the life of Riley; $4.70 a day for a chai latte from the beach café before a hard few hours on the sand reading and sunbathing ($9.40 if John comes too), or alternatively a pick-me-up after the beach walk and swim if these take place seriously early. Followed by breakfast (bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomato, toast and coffee; one chai latte per day is enough) back at our own quiet haven.

Birds: are an ongoing on obsession for John (no Whitcomb-Rileyism here; they are all the feathered variety). When he isn’t wandering hot and sweaty by lakes and through rainforest looking for them, he is checking them up and off in one of the 23 bird books he has here (every bird book has slightly different information and the coloured pictures of the birds vary in the perfection of the hue.) My favourite bird experience happens here every night just before dusk when countless thousands of sulphur crested cockatoos fly right over us coming from all directions, to meet up for their roost in some trees up a “quiet” street about three minutes walk from here. The spectacle is something to behold and I’ve spent hours gazing up into the eucalypyts taking photos and videos. The noise they make while flying over and even more as they screech happily together once they land, is deafening. The people who live in the incredibly expensive looking houses there must love them with a vengeance. At six every morning before we have even thought of getting up for the walk and swim, they start again. We are far enough away for it to seem exotic. When we lived in Canberra when our kids were sweet and young, we had our very own sulphur crested cockatoo called Bazza. He (who later laid an egg) was better than any watch dog (should we have needed one) as he would screech blue murder from his big day-time aviary as soon as anyone came anywhere near our house. He also enjoyed grabbing pencils and extracting the lead, in one perfect unbroken piece, by carefully splintering the wood. He was always the star of our parties (of which in those days there were many).

John has just returned from a three night camping trip to a well-known birding park even further north, where he slept not a wink because the cane trucks have changed their route and now go right past the campground all night long. I think a cane truck might be about three kilometers long. And even worse the mega bats (more about them in a sec) chirped over the campground all night, doing their thing and eating the fruit (not surpringly they are called fruit bats, or the more cuddly name of flying foxes). The chirping made by thousands of fruit bats is extremely loud and incredibly annoying (wasn’t there a book with that title?)

Bats: well I used to really like them and now I have a few reservations; I may have previously mentioned the bat-disturbed nights we had when we were over Darwin-way camping in August. But here, as soon as the cockatoos have left the skies and settled in their night roost, around twenty thousand bats fly over, and for once I am not exaggerating. The sky is black with them; I think they are Black Flying Foxes but they could be Spectacled Flying Foxes (apparently endangered—You can’t be serious!). They have a one meter wing span, and when you see them hangin’ about in the trees as they do all day (they are obviously all called Riley) they are very attractive with dark red fur on their cute foxy bodies (which is why they are called flying foxes I guess). Information from John: true bats and flying foxes are entirely different species. Bats are mostly much smaller and come complete with radar; they evolved from mice who decided to fly, and mega bats, flying foxes, come from— well, I leave that up to you to work out.

Books: other than the bird variety. Well I spend all Riley day long writing my own, reading and reviewing other people’s, and lately doing all the stuff that needs to be done for endless months before my first novel gets published, following which if I am lucky a few will actually be purchased by potential readers before it falls into the very deep hole where most books go. I have a second novel currently with an editor of a big publisher so fingers crossed, although I ain’t holding my breath (the previous version's protagonist, a male neurosurgeon, was considered by some agents/publishers not commercial enough for women readers so I have given him a sex change and I must say I do like him better now she’s called Georgia—a bit like Bazza the cockatoo, although he doesn’t lay an egg). And a third novel (a psychological suspense! No one can accuse me of being consistent), has just flown (via e-mail) to my fabulous editor in the Northern Hemisphere. I have no idea whether it is any good or not. Absolutely no idea. Well, some idea; it will likely end in that electronic bottom drawer, and never get anywhere near the deep black hole that comes after publication.

Briny, bikinis: every day for both, as long as regarding the second I can find a spot on the beach that has both shade and no one else anywhere near it. Usually possible. The briny here is 26 degrees centigrade at the moment, but warming up as summer approaches! The sea is typically opaque; too many enormous tropical rivers emptying into it, and of course there are rumoured to be saltwater crocs, and Jaws lurking within. At the moment the deadly stinging jellyfish are not present (too cold, Duh!) so the nets are not up, which is nice as one can swim miles from the flags and kids. The sea looks blue though, and the sun always shines, although the trade winds can blow you away sometimes. If it is all too unpleasant we can swim in our beautiful lagoon pool two meters from our patio, with its pure white river sand imported from Western Australia as apparently the sand from here stuffs up the pool filters. The Life of Riley. Recommended.


Book Review

The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White

A well-written story set in North Carolina about a family with issues. The reason it is different is that the issue that appears to takes centre-stage is Tourette’s Syndrome, the neurological problem that very bright seventeen-year-old Harry has lived with, rather successfully, all his life. (Tourettes manifests itself in various tics and angry outbursts, often portrayed in the media as the individual shouting out strange, often blasphemous words). Harry’s symptoms are more frequently seizure-like spasms, as well as phobias (of hospitals and planes) and just to add another dimension, ADHD.

Any story well told that shakes stereotypes of neurological and psychological disorders is always going to get my vote, and this novel does that with characters who are right there in the room as we read. Ella and Felix are the stereotypical parents of a kid who has issues; that is, warm, loving Ella is the one always there for Harry, supporting—protecting—him every step of the way, and very British Dad is the fellow who earns the money and keeps his distance. But luckily we don’t have to go along with this for long as at the beginning of the book Ella is struck down by a life-threatening heart attack, and Felix, the father, has to step up. As the story develops and we learn about Felix’s childhood, it becomes apparent that some of his British behaviours are not so stereotypical, but more like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an understandable response perhaps to his childhood experiences. As he struggles with this, we find out about this rather more common, but in many ways more disruptive and disturbing, disorder. (It is no surprise to learn that the author, Barbara Claypole White, has a grown son with OCD). Who The Perfect Son of the title becomes at this point is for the reader to decide. Ella, the perfect mother, remains in hospital, and role reversal becomes a necessity.

It is not possible to pinpoint a main protagonist as each family member has their turn at telling the story from their own perspective. In spite of there being many tragic events, these are portrayed so realistically and wittily that I didn't find this novel hard to read. Harry is funny and lovable, and effortlessly smashes those damaging ideas we might have about equating a disorder like Tourettes, or ADHD, with ‘Victim’; and Max, Harry’s very eccentric friend, smashes a few more stereotypes. Even Felix, unlikeable at the start, and a victim of his own past, is a hero by the end. Ella— well you will need to read the book! Barbara Claypole White has a talent for getting inside her characters and helping her readers understand a little (or a lot) more about how their minds work.

Article of Possible Interest

My most recent Psychology Today post: Creative Rehabilitation: Part 4, Dementia.

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